Thanks to the work of Allston-Brighton neighborhood activists (with longtime support from the Bike Union) and other advocacy groups, a new kind of cycletrack for Boston will be added to the Cambridge Street bridge over I-90 when it is reconstructed in the next year or two. It puts cyclists inside of a crash barrier at sidewalk level and uses colored asphalt to separate cyclists and pedestrians.
The facility will be a significant safety upgrade on a bridge that has taken lives before, including the life of Kelly Wallace, whose death inspired the group Helping Everyone Live Longer (H.E.L.L.) because of its history, the new plan is a symbolic accomplishment for cyclists in Boston. Yet, the design is still not optimal.
After much public pressure at public meetings, led by a stellar local crew of Allston-Brighton neighborhood activists, MassDOT created the cycletrack and made many other adjustments to the design, but stuck stubbornly to a 3-foot wide shoulder that many wanted to reallocate to the sidewalk and cycletrack to ease potential bike-pedestrian conflicts.
MassDOT’s manager on the project, Mark Gravallese argued that the shoulder was required for snow storage and potential breakdowns on the four-lane road. The state’s roadway design guide has strong language guiding Gravallese’s decision, it requires a 4-foot shoulder on main arterial. Neighborhood activists and the Bike Union argue that this width isn’t required in the Urban context and is more suited to rural roads. The snow could be stored on a narrower shoulder and would likely spill over the barrier (as happens on the Mass Ave. Bridge), breakdowns are quickly cleared in the urban context, and wide shoulders are likely to encourage higher speeds as they are more common on rural roads and highways.
Despite the remaining issues, Gravallese and MassDOT deserve credit for making several changes asked for by the neighborhood and for designing a new kind of facility that is a first for the department. Improved crash data collection in the city will allow close monitoring of the new design’s success, and inform future work on the bridge and the rest of Cambridge Street, which will be part of the $500 million I-93 straightening project that is just beginning to get underway at MassDOT.